The British Institution of Facilities Management recently reported on the EU’s new Circular Economy Action Plan, highlighting its relevance for facilities managers. In this article, Caroline Hand looks at some specific ways in which facilities managers can contribute to the goal of a more circular economy.

What is the circular economy?

Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has coined a simple definition of the circular economy as “an alternative to a traditional linear economy, in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them while in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life”.

The traditional linear economy is characterised as one in which society takes material resources (such as minerals, fuels or water) from the environment, makes them into products, uses them and then disposes of them to landfill, so that they are lost forever. In a fully circular economy, resources circulate around as products are reused, repaired and remanufactured, then eventually broken down for materials recycling. Organic material such as food waste can be circulated too, for example, through composting or anaerobic digestion.

Thus far, the circular economy is similar to the familiar “waste hierarchy”, but it goes further by considering the entire lifecycle of the product, focusing particularly on the design stage. The Great Recovery project has calculated that 80% of the waste associated with a product is determined by its design: if products are to “circulate”, they must be designed to be durable, easy to dismantle, and constructed from non-hazardous, recyclable materials.

Another important new element of the circular economy is its reliance on new, alternative business models such as servitisation, by which a supplier retains ownership of a product (whether an aircraft engine, photocopier or light fitting) and instead sells a service to the consumer. This gives the manufacturers an incentive to develop durable, upgradable products rather than cheaper “throwaway” items.

The circular economy promises tremendous benefits, both to the economy and to the environment. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has estimated that a circular economy could save between 520 and 603 billion dollars per annum in Europe, on top of the cost of materials saved.

How does it relate to facilities management?

With its emphasis on product life cycles and design, the circular economy is clearly relevant to manufacturers. It is also a major preoccupation of the waste and resources industry, which collects, segregates and reprocesses second life goods and materials. However, how can facilities managers play their part, and will they derive any benefit from getting involved?

In fact, facilities managers have a central role to play, particularly those large FM businesses which manage multi-million pound contracts on behalf of their clients. The wide-ranging responsibilities of facilities managers encompass food and catering; office furniture; utilities such as lighting and heating; procurement of IT equipment, repair and maintenance of buildings; cleaning and the provision and laundering of uniforms. Facilities managers will normally also have responsibility for waste management within the client’s premises, with the opportunity to collect unwanted materials for reuse and recycling.

Steve Lee of the Chartered Institution of Waste Management commented that facilities management “is in a position of great influence and can offer the focus and skills on resource efficiency and security and efficient waste management that often eludes many waste producers”.

Facilities managers have the power either to choose short term gains through buying cheap, disposable supplies, or to go for the long term win of investing in durable, reusable equipment. Significant savings for the FM company can be made through reusing materials and equipment, whether office furniture or laboratory technology, rather than buying new. If they choose to buy a service — whether lighting, carpeting or printing — rather than a product, they will be guaranteed the level of performance they desire, without the responsibility of having to replace a costly item once it becomes obsolete. For example, the Evergreen Lease carpet service offered by Interface supplies carpet tiles which are cleaned and replaced whenever necessary. Similarly, Philips offers a lighting service which allows clients to specify the quality of light for their building.

Management tools and simple solutions

In circumstances where major contracts are being negotiated, facilities managers can make use of the management tools offered free of charge by WRAP, such as the Mobile Asset Management Plan (MMAP). (Mobile assets are simply portable items owned by the FM, from cleaning cloths to fridges and phones.) WRAP’s toolkits can be used to explore and encourage a range of good practice scenarios including:

  • leasing or renting assets

  • seeking to use redeployed assets, if available

  • if buying new assets, using higher quality products to increase product life

  • undertaking higher quality servicing and maintenance to increase product life

  • looking for options to redeploy assets at the end of their life.

Case studies

WRAP has published a set of 20 case studies of facilities management companies which have successfully introduced circular economy principles.

Sodexo Scientific Services

Sodexo, one of the world’s biggest facilities management businesses, is a provider of laboratory equipment. With the help of WRAP’s Movable Asset Management Plan toolkit, it was able to compare the lifetime cost of buying new equipment with the cost of reconditioned equipment. Taking into account the initial capital cost, the cost of maintenance and repair and the residual value of the equipment at the end of the contract, they calculated that the reconditioned equipment would work out £1.3 million cheaper, representing a 13% saving.


Construction giants Carillion are involved in large scale refitting projects for schools and other public buildings. At the end of each project they have a stock of redundant furniture and equipment. Their Midlands division has invested in a storage facility for this furniture, which is then available for reuse in future projects. The re-use of furniture, signage and fittings has saved Carillion £257,211 over 5 years.

Office Depot

Office Depot, whose products include the Viking range for schools, provide uniforms for their staff. These were being disposed of to landfill because it was difficult to remove the embroidered company logo. WRAP found a nearby social business which was able to cover over the logos and issue the uniforms to its workers.


Hammerson UK Properties manages The Oracle, an award winning shopping centre in Reading. The centre generates 200 tonnes of food waste annually, most of it created within the restaurants and cafes as meals are prepared. By segregating out this waste they have improved the quality of their other recycling streams and saved £6000 per year.

Further information

For more practical guidance on the Circular Economy, consult the websites of WRAP and Resource Efficient Scotland. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has published a series of in-depth reports on how the transition to a circular economy can be achieved.

Last reviewed 24 March 2016